The latest deaths of two Palestinians during the fourth "Right of Return" protest brings the number of Gazans killed by Israeli forces in the past three weeks to 38, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Palestinian demonstrators shout during their fourth weekly protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 20, 2018.
Palestinian demonstrators shout during their fourth weekly protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 20, 2018. (Reuters)

Israeli soldiers firing Friday from across a border fence killed four Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, as several thousand people in blockaded Gaza staged a fourth round of weekly protests on the border with Israel.

Huge black plumes of smoke from the blazing tires engulfed the area, as Israeli troops fired tear gas and live bullets, witnesses said. Gaza's Health Ministry said 445 protesters were injured, including 96 by gunfire.

Some of the injured were overcome by tear gas, hit with rubber-coated steel pellets or hit by shrapnel, officials said.

Reagan Des Vignes reports.

Earlier today, Israeli military aircraft had dropped leaflets urging Palestinians to stay away from the fence and warning that they endanger their lives if they went ahead with their weekly protest.

Hundreds of Palestinians had gathered on the Gaza-Israel border as part of their weekly "Right of Return" protests to press for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

The two men killed during today's protest on the Gaza border were identified as Ahmad Abu Aqel, 25, and  Ahmad Rashad Al-Athamneh, 24.

Thirty-eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since protests and clashes erupted on the Gaza border on March 30.

TRT World 's Muhannad Alami reports from Ramallah.

"Dire humanitarian crisis"

Rights groups have branded open-fire orders as unlawful, saying they effectively permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.

White House envoy Jason Greenblatt, a member of President Donald Trump's Mideast team, said on social media that Palestinians in Gaza have a "right to protest their dire humanitarian circumstances."

Unarmed Palestinians run during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City. April 20, 2018.
Unarmed Palestinians run during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City. April 20, 2018. (Reuters)

Organisers "should focus on that message, not stoke the potential for more violence with firebombs and flaming kites, and must keep a safe distance from the border," said Greenblatt, adding that "the cost of these demonstrations is too high in loss of life and injuries."

A demonstrator runs during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, April 20, 2018.
A demonstrator runs during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, April 20, 2018. (Reuters)

Protests to continue until May 15

The protests are to continue at least until May 15, the anniversary of Israel's 1948 creation. Palestinians mark the day as their "Nakba," or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes in the Mideast war over Israel's founding.

On Thursday, organisers moved sit-in protest tents, each set up several hundred metres from the border, closer to the fence. Organisers said they will gradually move the camps toward the fence until May 15, but have made conflicting comments about a possible mass border breach.

Hamas says the protests are aimed at breaking a crippling border blockade that was imposed by Israel and Egypt after the group overran the territory in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliament elections.

Fourth weekly protest

On Friday, about 200 people had gathered in one of the tent camps east of Gaza City, a smaller turnout than on previous Fridays. More demonstrators were expected to arrive after Friday noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week.

While Hamas and smaller Palestinian factions have taken a lead as organisers, the mass marches are also fuelled by growing desperation among Gaza's two million residents.

The border blockade has trapped nearly all of them in the tiny coastal territory, gutted the economy and deepened poverty.

Gaza residents typically get fewer than five hours of electricity per day, while unemployment has soared above 40 percent.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies